Very little is known about him beyond the fact that he probably lived in Ramsgate, Kent, in the mid 19th century, but what is definite is the superb quality of two boat models he made that fetched £11,000 each (plus 24% buyer’s premium) at Charles Miller’s auction on July 7.
Luggers (from the ‘lug’ sail) were tough working boats of varying sizes used particularly around the UK coast and France.
One model depicted a simple version, catalogued as Ramsgate Hovellers’ lugger Prince of Wales (estimate £2000-3000 at this Fulham auction), and sold to a European collector. The other, showing a lugger lifeboat design (£1500-2500), went to the UK trade.
Key to the appeal was the fact that both of these sizeable models (each about a metre long) had been displayed in prestigious settings: the Prince of Wales at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and the lifeboat at the International Exhibition of 1862.
The 1851 event in Hyde Park is of course the best known, not least because of the legacy of the various museums it paid for with its profit, such as the V&A and the Science Museum.
The other event held nearby in South Kensington 11 years later – on the site now occupied by the Natural History Museum – tends to be underplayed (despite having about the same footfall, around 6m visitors). The International Exhibition featured a Royal National Lifeboat Institution stand where designs for innovative vessels were displayed – Twyman’s featured waterproof containers and heated compartments. (The design chosen, however, was the one familiar from the classic old RNLI collecting boxes. The cork ends made them practically unsinkable.)
Another great advantage of these models was the provenance: they came by descent from the family of Twyman and so were market-fresh.
Also, the excellent quality of build was a major draw. Miller said: “You just can’t replicate the simple age and look of the seasoned, mellow wood, and these were beautifully made – professional grade modelling, top-draw stuff.”